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Opening of Me

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I know it’s easy for the American to say things aren’t that much different around the world …. They ARE different, cultures are different, languages are so different, the way people live their lives are different. And yet, when I sit in on an SVP meeting, in Texas or Tokyo, I can’t help but walk away feeling there is more that we have in common, that binds us together than makes us different, at least when it comes to wanting to help change the world. Let me share a little about why from our first two days with www.svptokyo.org.

Shoe Trip to Tokyo_Sign_WP_20140621_011

Shoe Trip to Tokyo_Fish Market_WP_20140621_008Walked through the fish market, just like I might in Seattle, on the way to sit in on their all-day Saturday grant committee … except their fish market is about 100 times bigger and more crowded, at least it felt that way. The kinds of things they talked about – two people talked about the “potential” of a prospective investee … one woman mused about how unique the people and connections were in the room and how could they share that more widely … and one person even remarked how this felt like she was a partner of “democracy happening.”  Take a look at one of the organizations they were considering – http://social-artist-village.org/ – and their Social Business Lab.

The moment that really struck me was when, after several hours of presentations and discussion (exceedingly open, candid, give and take) they were getting ready to port the results on the screen upfront. The whole room full of people nudged, surged, squirmed their way closer to the front; I suspect I was the only person that noticed, but the energy flowed in one direction. One other side light – we had an interpreter beside us for some of the people talking, but there was a lot that literally needed little interpretation; I’ve seen these expressions on people’s faces, the energy in their voices, the conviction in their throats many times in many places … you know the drill.

Shoe Trip to Tokyo_SVP Tokyo Grant Committee_WP_20140621_021

This is a little overblown, but I couldn’t help but walking out of that room Saturday afternoon (no, we didn’t stay until they finished at 900pm), aware of the economic challenges Japan has faced for the last 20 years, and feeling like at least part of the “answer” was the kind on young, vibrant, socially-conscious, smart people we’d spent a few hours with. We talk about potential all the time at SVP, it was in that room in ample supply. Later, we had a good, 90-minute chat with a reporter from http://business.nikkeibp.co.jp/english/, we’ll keep you posted.

At dinner, another conversation with a young man that is exploring starting an SVP in the Sendai region, related to the continuing aftermath of their tsunami. I’m not sure if he’ll pull it off (if anyone can, Yuji probably can), but it was fascinating that someone felt like SVP’s model was potentially one of the solutions they needed to empower and reinvigorate their community in those sometimes still-ravaged areas of Japan.

Last but not least for the day was a conversation, walking down the street with a new Partner that night on our way to dinner with several of their Partners. I can’t remember his full name so I don’t want to mis-pronounce or butcher the spelling. I casually asked him how that day felt like, since it was his first extensive SVP experience. He told me it was “very special” and it was an “opening of me.” I wondered if I had heard him correctly, with the language difference. I asked him again and he repeated. This was a pretty young guy, new to this world of social change. He explained it was “very special” because he had never been with a group of people like that and had no idea how complex so many social challenges were.

Even more powerful was how he explained what “opening of me” meant.

He went on to say he had his mind opened up in such a different way than he ever had before. He spent some time talking to one NGO leader that was there for the day and he said the give and take was so eye- and heart-opening. Who knows where his life and work will take him in the decades ahead, but it was just exhilarating to hear someone talk about their first SVP experience like that. I have heard that from hundreds of SVP Partners when they start their SVP experience. Heck, I remember feeling the same thing when I started in 1998, and now here was a young guy halfway around the world having that experience in 2014 in Tokyo. His “opening of me” was a re-opening for me too.

Paul Shoemaker is SVP Seattle’s Executive Connector.  In the Shoemaker Spiel he writes about philanthropy, nonprofits and the connections that make SVP.


  1. Takashi Nakajima


    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about days in Tokyo. I have absolutely exhilarating days to work with non-profit leaders & SVP partners in Tokyo.

    It was very nice to talk you all, and wish you have nice fright back to Seattle!

  2. Paul Shie

    Takashi, you all have something important going on at SVP Tokyo. Thank you all for being such gracious hosts

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